The AFC West remains the toughest division in football.
This week, both the Broncos and Chiefs took their talents on the road, with Denver traveling to play the Jaguars and the Chiefs heading south to play the Falcons, while the Raiders and Chargers played in the afternoon, hosting the Bills and Bucs, respectively.
Here’s what you need to know about each team:
The Broncos were without their starting quarterback, as Trevor Siemian didn’t play with an injury to his left foot. If you follow him, the Broncos or any Denver fan on Twitter, you saw the very clever photo of Siemian studying on his tablet, foot in the pool, while listening to play calls — just like Payton Manning did last season.
I get that the photo was meant to be in good fun and should have been taken that way, but after I thought, “That’s pretty cute,” I also thought, “Well, wait a minute, Manning missed a handful of games due to that same foot injury, didn’t he?”
As we all know, Denver kept things rolling with the help of Brock Osweiler and their outstanding defense last year, but let me make this clear: Paxton Lynch is not ready to serve in that role. He wasn’t terrible Sunday in Jacksonville, but he wasn’t good, either.
He looked like a rookie who has struggled to pick up the playbook and has been left without a lot of opportunities to improve. Lynch was not in a great spot Sunday: he lost Kapri Bibbs, who was dealing with an ankle injury; DeVontae Booker took a big hit and missed some brief time to be evaluated; and, of course, the offensive line was, well, not good.
He dealt with all of that and got the win — thank goodness for the Jaguars! — but Denver has a tough schedule in front of them, with games against the Patriots and a rematch with both the Raiders and Chiefs remaining on their schedule, so getting Siemian back sooner than later will be crucial for their playoff run.
That doesn’t mean I’m Team Siemian, but it does mean he is the best option for this team in its current state. When and if John Elway decides to address this offensive line, then we can have the debate again. Either then or when Lynch shows that he can handle the entire playbook.
The good news for Broncos Country is that the defense, once again (for about the 14th game in the last two seasons), made plays when they had to.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs were also on the road on Sunday, playing the Atlanta Falcons. They took a 20-16 lead into the half and continued to play well in the second. A fake punt turned into a 55-yard touchdown for Kansas City, and they survived a late push from the Falcons when Eric Berry returned a two-point conversion attempt from the Falcons the other way for two points of their own.
With the win, the Chiefs improved to 9-3, which keeps their one-game lead over the Broncos intact. Denver will obviously need to beat the Chiefs on Christmas in Kansas City and then get some help. That help could come as soon as this Thursday, as they Chiefs and Raiders will play on Thursday Night Football.
Oakland welcomed the Buffalo Bills to the coliseum, which is a disrespect to actual coliseums, and Oakland did to the Bills what they were supposed to do: beat them. Although the Bills had the lead for much of the game, Derek Carr and the Raiders came on late in the second half and picked up their 10th win of the year.
I have been saying it all season, but I will say it again: This is the Raiders’ division, and they will be the top seed in the AFC West; in fact, they just might be the top seed in the entire conference.
Then, we will really get to see what they are made of in the playoffs.
San Diego Chargers
As for the last-place San Diego Chargers, they played host to Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Although the Chargers are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the biggest news out of San Diego this season, outside of ACL tears, came this week when there were reports of the team planning on moving to Los Angeles this offseason.
San Diego or Los Angeles, it doesn’t matter, because either way we are watching Philip Rivers waste a pretty darn good career and that window is closing for him.
It’s still a very real possibility that three teams from the AFC West end up in the playoffs, but with the Chiefs, Broncos and Raiders all still playing each other down the stretch, anything can happen. Something tells me, as these playoff races start to heat up, the NFL will no longer have any problems with television ratings.